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The Bucks bounce back from 11-error game versus Western Mennonite to post its biggest win of the season

PHIL HAWKINS -- WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Junior Justin Herberger tosses a complete game for St. Paul Friday as the Bucks upend Tri-River Conference leader Kennedy 9-0.

The penultimate week of the regular season for the St. Paul baseball team played out much like the opening line of the Charles Dickens novel "A Tale of Two Cities."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …"

The No. 10 Buckaroos (12-3, 8-3 Special District 2) opened the week with a routine 12-1 victory over the Perrydale Pirates (2-10, 1-8 SD2) only to follow it with arguably the team's worst game of the season, committing 11 errors in a discouraging 16-6 loss to the Western Mennonite Pioneers (9-8, 6-3 SD2) at Volcano Stadium in Keizer on Thursday.

"In golf they call it the 'yips,'" SPHS coach Julio Vela said. "We were suffering on Thursday night. Whatever it was – it just didn't seem like us that night."

St. Paul hardly had time to compartmentalize the loss before playing No. 3 Kennedy (15-3, 8-1 SD2) on Friday, but responded with perhaps their best performance of the year to blank the Trojans 9-0.

That the Bucks handed one of the best teams in the state — a team that has averaged more than 10 runs a game this season — its first league loss of the season in a shutout only made the sting of Thursday's clunker against the Pioneers all the more head scratching in retrospect.

"I think that was part of what was disheartening on Thursday night," Vela said. "What we saw on Friday is what we are capable of playing."

The Bucks started ace pitcher Justin Herberger, who dominated the Kennedy lineup in a complete game effort. The junior struck out nine and hit as many batters (three) as he gave up hits. On offense, he went three-for-four with three runs scored, each of which came courtesy of teammate Campbell Smith, who had a monstrous game at the plate.

Smith peppered the outfield on every at-bat, finishing four-for-four with three doubles and a triple, driving in five runs and scoring twice. Holden Smith added three hits of his own — all singles — and had 2 RBIs.

After Campbell Smith doubled home Herberger to make it 1-0 in the first, the Bucks added four more runs in the fourth inning to take a 5-0 lead and continued adding to their lead late in the game, perhaps fueled in part by the disappointing performance the day before.

The loss was difficult to swallow for more than just the sheer improbability of committing 11 errors in a single game. With the season winding down, OSAA 2A/1A Special District 2 is shaping up to be a four-team race for three available playoff berths.

A win against the Pioneers would have put some distance between St. Paul and the other two playoff contenders -- Western Mennonite and Regis (10-5, 6-3 SD2) -- but instead, the setback leveled all three teams with three in the loss column. Fortunately, the Bucks responded with the game of the season against Kennedy to avoid dropping to fourth place in the standings.

"We talked about finding within ourselves the strength that we knew we had versus the strength that we knew we needed," Vela said. "I think that the idea that we can bounce back after effectively failing under pressure – I think that's a huge growth item for us."

The same four teams fought for playoff spots last year, but it was St. Paul that was left on the outside after losing to the Pioneers in a one-game league tie-breaker.

The Bucks can avoid such a scenario if they win their final three games. St. Paul plays at Regis on Wednesday and closes out with a home game Saturday against last-place East Linn Christian and a road contest May 15 at Santiam.

"We're in the same position as we were in last year," Vela said. "Our fate is in our own hands. If we take care of our games, we'll be fine."

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